First Veterans Day Community Walk to enhance traditional ceremony

A centerpiece of the annual Veterans Day event is the placing of a memorial wreath. This year's ceremony will be held Nov. 11 at 11 a.m.

A centerpiece of the annual Veterans Day event is the placing of a memorial wreath. This year’s ceremony will be held Nov. 11 at 11 a.m.

Veterans Day is often thought of as a somber occasion, but the Greenwich Military Covenant of Care will hold its first Veterans Day Community Walk on Nov. 11 in hope of uniting the town in a joyful recognition of all military personnel past and present who have served the country.

The parade will bring people toward the annual Greenwich Veterans Day Ceremony, which will be held by the town’s war memorial outside the former Greenwich post office. The area is under construction but the ceremony will be able to go on unaffected as it has for years.

According to Greenwich resident Bruce Winningham, co-founder of the Covenant of Care, the walk is expected to attract between 400 and 800 participants, who will gather at 9:30 a.m. at the top of Greenwich Avenue and officially begin the walk at 10.

Along the way, participants will enjoy a festive, patriotic spirit as they march to drums and wave American flags. Mr. Winningham said the event is “not a solemn trudge but a joyous gathering” that will end on Arch Street near the Board of Education building where the town’s annual Veterans Day ceremony, hosted by the American Legion Post 29, will take place as usual at 11.

One of the highlights of the event, Mr. Winningham said, will take place at the end of the walk, when participants are invited to share the photographs and stories of loved ones who have served in the military and why it means something to them. The “interviews” will be recorded and edited down into three- to four-minute videos which will then be shared via social media with men and women who are struggling to recover in the aftermath of their deployment. The goal, Mr. Winningham said, is to show these servicemen and women that their efforts are remembered and appreciated by towns across America.

The video concept was also developed by members of the Greenwich Military Covenant of Care, a citizens group composed of a network of mothers in town who have a military son or daughter who has been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The group assists Greenwich families affected by the war, Mr. Winningham said, and members developed the concepts of the Community Walk and interviews as a means of supporting those families by recognizing their sacrifices. For too long, the efforts of those who serve, as well as of their families, have gone unnoticed, he said, and this event aims to ensure that is no longer the case.

For Covenant of Care co-founder Mary Jane Huffman, the walk is also a crucial learning opportunity for Greenwich youth. With no military bases close to Greenwich, the 30-year town resident said, it’s clear that many children in town have never actually seen a serviceman or woman in uniform. The lack of military presence is deceiving, however, because many families in town have young members in combat.

In earlier wars, the community recognized families with children in the military by the blue star they would place in their windows, Ms. Huffman said. Now that kind of awareness is missing and it is the hope of the Covenant of Care that the Community Walk will change that, she said. For many residents, she said, it will be a way of providing fellow community members who have been in combat with support they otherwise wouldn’t know how to give.

People see the injuries and trauma soldiers endure on the news, and “we’re heartbroken but we don’t know how to respond,” Ms. Huffman said. Now those individuals can pay tribute to servicemen and women and young residents will learn how to thank them, she said.

Covenant of Care member Heather Knapp said the organization has been critical in helping her through the trying experience of having a son serve overseas. It has served as a vital support system that not only reassures mothers of servicemen and women but the soldiers themselves, who feel confident that their families not only support their efforts but are being supported themselves.

Ms. Knapp, who has two children in the military, said her son Jake may have the opportunity to attend the Community Walk this year, which would provide the “human quality” young residents need to experience in order to fully understand why they are honoring local soldiers.

Kathy Derene, whose 20-year-old son, Sam, is a marine currently serving in Okinawa, Japan, agreed that both the town and the country need to do more to recognize servicemen and women. After her son was deployed, she said, she felt that every day should be Veterans Day.

“I have a son who is willing to die for this country,” Ms. Derene said. “That’s overwhelming.”

Soldiers serve as important role models for younger children, so the Community Walk is a great way to showcase them, she said. “These boys are so brave,” she said. “It’s overwhelming the pride you feel.”

According to Mr. Winningham, the Veterans Day Community Walk will not only recognize servicemen and women but will also provide an opportunity for veterans returning to the workforce to receive some assistance. Two local organizations will be on hand to assist those interested in both entrepreneurial and corporate work, he said. A business development organization established by state Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st District) will be ready to assist and advise veterans with entrepreneurial aspirations to allow them to successfully start and build their own small businesses.

Additionally, American Corporate Partners will be available to help veterans learn the intricacies of corporate life through a program called Mentor a Veteran During Your Commute to Work.

Calling the Community Walk “a missing piece of the town’s rhythm and ritual,” Mr. Winningham said he hopes to make the walk an annual event.

The walk was specifically designed to dovetail with the town’s traditional Veterans Day ceremony, which will begin at 11 a.m. in its usual location by the town’s war memorial on Greenwich Avenue on Nov. 11. According to American Legion Post 29 Commander Christopher Hughes, who serves as the master of ceremonies, part of the avenue will be blocked off this year as veterans are honored with salutes, music and speeches. In addition, several youth groups will participate in the ceremony, including the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich Honor Guard, Boy Scouts of America, Police Explorers, and all veterans groups from town.

The event will also include the presentation of the annual Young Person of the Year Award to outstanding youth leaders from the community, Mr. Hughes said. And finally, he added, the ceremony will honor those killed in action with a rifle salute and wreath presentation.

Full coverage of the ceremony and the parade will appear in the Nov. 14 edition of the Post.


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